Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Blunkett: I think that all agree that removals are important, but let me take this opportunity to set out the challenge. It is important to understand the difficulty that we face on removals. We have increased the number of removals to 1,500 or 1,600 a month, which is now over 18,000 on an annualised basis. We separately remove 1,300 people a month, and the figure is rising, who are here illegally but who, before we managed to remove them, did not claim asylum. We have separately managed each month to stop 3,000 clandestines getting into the country. The total picture is rarely presented because in our media, which I have already said I love, one set of people is told to present the worst possible side of asylum and immigration and another is completely convinced that it is not an issue and that it should present the matter as though we have some sort of obsession. Neither reflects the reality. The developed world is addressing a difficult challenge and we are part of that process.

The difficulty in removals is not simply fast-tracking, giving people their final decision and then putting them on a plane or a boat; it is the process that stops us from being able to achieve the goal. First, there are legal constraints, which is why we intend to improve and streamline the appeals and judicial review process. Secondly, there is the issue of documentation. Even if individuals or families are held in a secure removal centre, they cannot be removed without the documentation that allows the country of origin to take them back. That is a crunch issue, because 70 per cent. of applicants either have never had or have thrown away their documents. Many of them are now being advised, sometimes by disreputable people, that if they do not co-operate in the redocumentation process we cannot remove them, and therefore we will continue to sustain them. Therefore, without the documentation required by the receiving country, we have the devil's own job to trigger compulsory removal, which we are undertaking, and without a country to receive them, we have nowhere to remove them to. We cannot eject them into outer space.

The complexity of these issues is growing by the day. Every time we close a loophole, the facilitators and those behind them, and many advising those who claim asylum, tell them what to do. I understand such advice from those who are dedicatedly against any removals, with their campaigns for what they call no deportation, but in terms of fulfilling public policy and having a system that works and is trusted, and in which people have confidence, we are constantly fighting a battle to close the loopholes and thwart those who will use any ends to make a monkey of the system.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend have any concerns about the conditions faced by people who, after an unsuccessful

17 Dec 2003 : Column 1593

asylum application here, are deported to a country from which they have fled and who may then be open to abuse and intimidation? What monitoring is undertaken by his Department or in British posts abroad, and what consideration is given to the safety of such people when they return?

Mr. Blunkett: The whole system is geared not to send people back to countries where they will be threatened with death and torture. That is the whole basis of the 1951 convention and of our immigration and asylum laws, and will remain so. Secondly, people whose individual claims fail, but whose country of origin, to which we would usually return them, is considered unsafe, are not returned. That is the serious problem that we face with regard to people who have no legal right to be here but whom we cannot remove on humanitarian grounds—and we do not intend to change that. We of course monitor and take the international, as well as national, in-country assessment. As a consequence of the previous legislation we agreed to have an advisory group and to take further advice, so we are going out of our way not to send such people back. Even if people inside or outside the House disagree with the Bill, when we return people who have failed all their claims and whom we can return to a country that we believe to be safe, where appropriate we shall assist them with resettlement, as we are doing at present with regard to Afghanistan.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): The Home Secretary said that there was evidence to support the view that 3,000 clandestines were prevented from coming into the United Kingdom each month, and I should be grateful if he would substantiate that claim. Will he also clarify—[Interruption.] The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration laughs, but the Home Secretary made the claim, and it is worth having it substantiated. Secondly, what will the Bill do to make easier the removal of people with no documentation? The House appreciates the problems that the Home Secretary explained, but I cannot see anything in the Bill that will make that task easier.

Mr. Blunkett: On the first point, the statistics relate to those who are turned back at the new border controls in France—and now in Belgium, where we have put in place facilities at Zeebrugge—and therefore do not claim asylum at our ports and airports. The statistical facts on those people, who are turned away because they have no legitimate right to be in the country, are on the record. Presumably, people do not know about that because we do not shout about it loudly enough, but I have every intention of doing so from here on in.

On redocumentation, we are working with countries across the world from where large numbers of returnable people seek asylum, to get them to accept simplified and speeded-up measures for acceptance of nationality or a simplified redocumentation system. We are putting in place a system to guard against those who throw away their documents when they get off the plane—bearing in mind the fact that they must have had a passport and other documents to get on it in the first place. That includes our consultation on copying

17 Dec 2003 : Column 1594

relevant parts of those documents to ensure that we are able to present the facts to the person's country of origin. That measure will assist us substantially.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Does the Home Secretary acknowledge the damage that is done to community relations when many decent citizens without a racist bone in their bodies become understandably frustrated by the fact that after several years of different pieces of legislation from Governments of two different political persuasions, there remain massive delays in processing, a degree of profiteering by certain unscrupulous lawyers and advisers, and extensive profiteering by private landlords, all at the taxpayer's expense? What will the Bill do to address those issues?

Mr. Blunkett: I agree with my hon. Friend's analysis. That is the kind of discontent and disquiet that others feed on and use to cause friction, break down social cohesion and damage race relations. That is why, through the administrative changes in the Bill, we stress that people should be honest in terms of their presentation of the facts and their willingness to give evidence on what has happened to them. The Bill will help us to tackle organised criminality; to strengthen our borders; to speed up the system, including the adjudication and appeals process; to tackle bogus advice; and to deal with legal aid.

As well as taking measures to ensure that people have to present their case honestly, retain their documents and tell the truth about their country of origin, we need to be sensitive in understanding the difficulties that some asylum seekers face when they reach the country. The process and the legality of section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 was upheld by the courts, and we intend to respond to that through the Bill. The measures that we are introducing, following discussions with refugee organisations, will allow us to be more flexible in assessing whether people have been in the country for any length of time. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration will announce today that we will provide to those who make the decisions the necessary adjustment in advice to allow them—subject to people's giving an honest account of how they reached the country and how long they have been here—72 hours, rather than the current 24 hours, in relation to people claiming asylum and being entitled to benefit.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for making that point about greater flexibility in relation to the time that is taken to apply for asylum. Another problem is the difficulty that the National Asylum Support Service faces in accepting that, a decision having been made, a person is really without any means of support and qualifies for assistance under section 55(4) of the 2002 Act. Apparently, several hundred applications to court have not been opposed by NASS in cases where court orders have been given instructing it to provide support for people who, having had an adverse decision, find themselves on the street and destitute. Will the Home Secretary accept that that is a second component where more flexibility is required?

Mr. Blunkett: Where a court indicates through judicial review that we have an obligation to reconsider

17 Dec 2003 : Column 1595

the case or to provide support, we will of course do so. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman make known to my hon. Friend the Minister of State any examples of cases where that is not being done.

Next Section

IndexHome Page